If the Jan Lokpal Bill united the Congress and BJP in opposition to it, recent statements by AAP leaders while addressing corporate houses have squarely placed the AAP in the same camp as the Congress and BJP on the question of neoliberal economic policies. In fact, in the tussle over the Jan Lokpal Bill, the most crucial aspect of the debate was rendered invisible. Both the Lokpal law enacted by Parliament and the Delhi Government’s Janlokpal draft are silent on the question of bringing corporate corruption under the ambit of the Lokpal legislation. Given that the most massive scams in the past two decades have benefited corporations above all, this omission is quite glaring.
The question of gas pricing illustrates the point amply. The gas pricing scam, after all, is not only one of blackmail and arbitrary raising of gas prices. The scam originates from the policy of handing over precious natural resources for private profit and plunder. It was the NDA regime that signed the contract with RIL in 2000, allowing it access to the precious KG Basin gas reserves. Since then, NDA and UPA both have colluded time and again with RIL to benefit the latter, in the process increasing the subsidy burden on the Government and the burden of higher fertiliser and power costs on farmers. The Radia tapes showed how even in Parliament in 2009, Mukesh Ambani could ensure that the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee would propose a tax exemption to benefit RIL alone, and could ensure that BJP leaders would not oppose it! The tapes showed that Ambani could ensure that the Government appointed pliant Petroleum Ministers and sacked less pliant ones; and that the main Opposition party would field pliant leaders to speak on issues relating to gas pricing in Parliament!
The gas pricing scam illustrates graphically how price rise and corruption are Siamese twins, born to the policy regime of pro-corporate privatisation. Governance and democracy are held in the stranglehold of corporations, thanks to this policy regime. Corporations have had a free hand to plunder natural resources and extort profits from basic services that ought to be publicly available people’s rights. Not only have the worst scams occurred in this backdrop, the worst state repression in the country’s poorest forest areas, too has taken place in defence of this policy regime of plunder. While tax waivers and handover of precious natural resources to the tune of several lakhs of crores are not termed ‘subsidies’, the neoliberal regime has sought to curtail entitlements like food rations on the pretext that subsidies to the poor are a burden on the exchequer!
With this being the case, how can corporations – the biggest beneficiaries of such scams – be left out of the ambit of the Lokpal? How can price rise or corruption be tackled without reversing the policy regime that creates it? How can one usher in democracy without ensuring that people, rather than corporations, have control over natural resources?
The Congress and the BJP have, time and again, demonstrated their unbreakable loyalty to the policy regime of liberatisation and corporate loot. AAP’s symbolic gestures – such as the FIR against Mukesh Ambani in the gas pricing case - have raised hopes that they will actually challenge this regime of loot. But the pronouncements of AAP leaders on economic policies are not in tune with this symbolism.
Speaking to the CII, Arvind Kejriwal declared that the Government had no business to be in business, and that business should be left to private players; creating jobs was not the job of the Government but of industry; and the Government should restrict itself to providing a security and rule of law, infrastructure, and corruption-free governance. This is unadulterated neoliberal doctrine. To say ‘the Government has no business to be in business’ begs the question: why should land, minerals, water, education, health and other natural resources and public services be a ‘business’ at all? And moreover, all over the world, capitalists have functioned only with the full blessings and proactive backing of the Governments!
Speaking at an investor conference in Mumbai and to a TV channel, Yogendra Yadav said that “Food subsidies should not be provided. Giving food directly to the person concerned is the most inefficient and expensive manner of serving the poor...The way to service the disadvantaged is not to even out poverty, social justice is about uplifting everyone by unleashing growth, encouraging manufacturing, good business practices and catching hold of the corrupt.” The idea that poverty is caused by a paucity of skills, that unleashing ‘growth’ or curbing corruption can be the answer to poverty, and that food rations or other forms of redistributive justice are ‘expensive’ or ‘inefficient’ is again, standard neoliberal doctrine. Manmohan Singh and Modi would both agree. Modi has in fact contrasted subsidies with ‘skills’, saying subsidies keep people dependent and he is instead committed to providing skills so that people can provide for themselves.
Kejriwal declared that his party was not against capitalism, only against crony capitalism. This is a disingenuous statement. Crony capitalism in India has been the creation of the liberalisation era, a product of the policy regime that mandates Governments to be mere facilitators of primitive accumulation of natural resources by corporations. Kejriwal specifically distanced the party’s stance from that of AAP leader Prashant Bhushan’s, where he had said that “mines and minerals, oil and natural gas, land, spectrum and other natural resources would be vested with the public sector, and airports and power would be nationalised.” Yogendra Yadav too termed nationalisation of resources and services to be ‘ridiculous,’ saying that AAP is only opposed to ‘private monopolies.’ Again the model of co-existence and competition of private and public together, and of PPPs is nothing but disguised promotion of private players at public cost. The real point is that public resources and services should not be handed over to private profit-seekers; and public resources like land, water, forests and minerals should be under the control of the people.
Price rise, corruption, state repression, and corporate stranglehold over democracy, have their roots in the policy regime of liberalisation and corporate plunder. If the 2014 elections are not to be about personalities but policies, the question of reversal of this policy regime of plunder must be the foremost priority for democratic forces.